There were no TV cameras nor the presence of royalty. No great lighting effects, vast convoys of soldiers nor land rovers loaded with men in berets. In fact, ANZAC Day in the small town of Esk came comparatively quietly, but to me it was all the more touching for what it wasn’t. Led by the sounds of the Brisbane Brass Band, there was just the scuff of feet on asphalt… young excited feet, old tired feet; clubs and community groups skipping, marching, limping, bikes and army vehicles cruising from the RSL Hall to the Cenotaph, the odd car carrying some who once sprang to the defence of us all but who now found the two blocks of the main street of Esk beyond them.
As the tramp of the feet and the parade of vehicles got closer to their destination, members of the public who came to pay their respects emerged from shops and their places around the Memorial Park carrying cool drinks, the occasional Aussie flag and a humble homage towards those who served when they didn’t have to. Family names on the Cenotaph honour roll surely still familiar to many in the town.
At 11.00am unprecedented numbers found their places under shade where they could and others where they couldn’t to be welcomed with the passion and unique oratory of Esk RSL Sub-Branch President, Charlie Elwell. Special guests included Mayor Graeme Lehmann, Father Ian Bailey and Guest speaker, Captain Justin Ryan O.I.C. Support Squadron, 2/14 Light Horse Regiment who spoke so eloquently of the reasons for celebrating what was essentially the failure of an eight-month campaign on the shores of Gallipoli but a victory for resilience, courage, loyalty and self-sacrifice. Maree was again honoured to sing the Anthem of Australia and I, the New Zealand Anthem, albeit in competition with, though undeterred by the supersonic roar of the RAAF’s F/A 18 Super Hornet’s spectacular flyover.
Prayers by Father Ian to an interdenominational assembly were interspersed with the slightly hesitant renditions of Amazing Grace and Abide With Me, the lyrics, if not available to those with programmes, known only to those whose memories and voices were beginning to tremble. On this day, the singing by the Esk Community Choir of an ‘Australian Medley’ gave new meaning to the words which celebrate the freedoms Australians have been afforded by the sacrifices of others.
A profusion of wreaths were placed at the cenotaph for the lives lost. A quiet affair, its muted respect and periods of silence broken eventually by the sounds of ‘The Last Post’ and ‘Reveille’ by bugler Matthew Lukritz.
Veterans and service men then gathered at the Cenotaph in respect of their fallen, many of whom would have been barely older than some of those children who had stepped forward this day to lay wreaths.
ANZAC Day in Esk may not have been the big gala but hands down beats the big city for capturing the ANZAC spirit with its human qualities of quiet courage and mateship, of sacrifice and sincerity and we cherish it for what it is.
By: Sue Walker